Health & Safety (H&S) issues have come to the fore again at Total’s Shetland Gas Plant (SGB), with hundreds of engineering construction workers refusing to work due to safety concerns. A Unite member report on the latest action by workers at the SGB.
On Monday 21st July, Health & Safety (H&S) issues came to the fore again at Total’s Shetland Gas Plant (SGB) when hundreds of engineering construction workers sat in the main canteen, refusing to work due to safety concerns. The employers say: if it is unsafe, you can stop the job.
Dangers for workers; safety of the bosses’ profits
Following the recent safety concerns regarding non-certified straps being used for lifting (the company said they couldn’t find out who did it; workers refused to accept this), there was now the issue of a concrete hopper being lifted over the heads of workers, with the handle being snagged open and releasing a tonne or so of concrete below onto the workers. In addition, highly pressurised gas cylinders came off a fork-lift after concerns were previously raised about this operation and the location of the cylinders. The cylinders rolled down a slope, and a 200 metre exclusion zone was put around them due to possible damage.
The workers’ sit-in demanded that their union H&S reps be fully involved in the investigations into these concerns, and that supervisors – or whoever sanctioned such operations – be brought to book.
A senior Petrofac manager tried to inform the workers that their concerns were being met and that they needed to return to work; but the workers wouldn’t budge, and instead, in no uncertain terms, gave him questions that they wanted answers to.
The workers continued the sit-in and then agreed, later in the day, to the companies offer to open up all investigations. The pre-arranged union (Unite / GMB) monthly meeting then took place in the afternoon, with a whole host of industrial running sores on the SGP coming to a head, such as: Shetland residents working at SGP, as with lodging workers, not getting travel money; 2.5 hours lost money, which Petrofac refused to pay, due to a safety sit-in a few months back; and also workers being housed on a ship with no windows, TV, Wifi, mobile phone signal, or temperature control for three weeks. The workers said the company needed to comply with these requests, by Wednesday 23rd July, along with the on-going safety issues or they would stay in the cabins again.
The workers united will never be defeated
Things came to ahead again on this Wednesday, with hundreds again returning to the cabins. They then went on to the site and spoke to the other workers, with everyone across the site downing tools – probably nearly one thousand workers – and sitting in and surrounding Total’s and Petrofac’s offices.
The workers were riggers, welders, pipefitters, scaffolders, labourers, electricians, civil construction workers; they were Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish, Polish, Portuguese and others, from companies such as Balfour Beatty, Petrofac, BIS, Randrigde, Morrison, Orion and Central Euro Staffing agency, etc. Spokespersons came from the shopfloor, with foriegn workers translating from English into their own languages.
The companies at first threatened to sack all the workers, but the workers held firm. Later the companies, with the involvement of the unions, agreed to pay the workers the 2.5 hours and would look into paying the Shetland resident workers the travel money. The workers agreed to this.
Apparently PM Cameron was going to visit SGP this day as he was in Shetland, but he was told to stay in his hotel in Lerwick.
Where next for SGB workers?
What the workers need to do now is consolidate the position they are in. Dozens of non-union workers came in droves to join up, demonstrating that, for all their faults, workers turn to their mass organisations, such as the trade unions, to defend them.
Members need to become active in the unions, attending branch meetings and putting forward motions, putting pressure on the labour movement leaders to turn back the most restrictive anti-trade union laws in Europe. In the case of Unite and the GMB, this means claiming back our political party, the Labour Party, ridding it of careerists, Blairites, etc., and ensuring that workers – including riggers, scaffolders and labourers, etc. – are chosen as Labour MP representatives to get rid of anti-worker laws.
So that all workers of Britain and internationally share in the wealth that we are creating in society, instead of just the 1%, join us now in the fight for socialist policies.